When a loved one becomes disabled, develops a chronic condition, or encounters aging challenges, it often falls to one or two family members to take on the responsibility of providing care. Caring for a loved one can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it can also take a significant toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health. Much like the pre-flight instructions to place your own oxygen mask first before helping others, it is essential to acknowledge your own needs and take care of yourself before tending to your parents or other family members. There are proven ways to establish healthy boundaries and balance your own needs with your caregiver responsibilities.

As an Aging Life Care Manager®, I have encountered every type of family situation you can imagine; however, a recurrent theme is caregiver burden, stress, and even burnout. I want to help you avoid as much of this as possible so here are some thoughts I’d like to share.

Acknowledge your own needs – It’s easy to get so caught up in caring for your parents or loved ones that you forget to take care of yourself. Make sure to prioritize your own physical and emotional health by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, and seeking help if you need it. This can be easier said than done and some families have found that creating a weekly or even monthly schedule and posting it in the home has helped when they feel too busy to take care of themselves. They can refer to the schedule as a baseline of what they are forgetting to do and can work with other family members to get back on track. Remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish but necessary to provide the best care for your loved ones.

Establish boundaries – It’s normal to want to do everything you can to please the people you care for, but it’s essential to set boundaries on how much you can realistically give. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do, and don’t be afraid to say no if you’re being asked to take on too much. It’s better to establish boundaries from the start than to burn out and become resentful later. I remember one adult daughter, who was an avid planner. When I first met her, she had already outlined her “Rules for my Role Taking Care of Mom.” She said she had sent it to the whole family.

Her list included:
1. There should always be open communication between all parties involved so everyone feels heard.
2. Each individual living in the home will have their own space within the home and the spaces will be respected. If family comes to visit, they will stay in a hotel so as not to overcrowd and overstimulate Mom; however, they are welcome to visit Mom at the house unlimited. Strict waking and bed routines must be followed for mom, so visitors are responsible for maintaining the timing of their visits accordingly. Visiting includes cleaning up after yourselves and assisting with house maintenance affected by your visit.
3. Any decisions made must include input from all people directly affected by them, including Mom, even as her dementia progresses. She may not be able to cogently decide but the attitude of those making the final decision must be that her voice is heard.
4. All acknowledge that not everyone can or will agree on everything, but respect is still required.
5. If ever anyone feels overwhelmed, then help should absolutely be asked for without hesitation or guilt and those being asked must not react in a way that hinders future requests.

This is one of the most diligent lists I have encountered in my work as a care manager. It clearly lays out how to work together as a family in the best interests of their mom, which is what most family caregivers are seeking. Knowing she was not alone and that her family would support her work made it less stressful to move mom into the house and be the primary caregiver for all her needs.

She had many opportunities to ask for help, interact with family on visits, and take care of mom for over five years and this list was laminated and held up by a magnet on her refrigerator. I met her sister when she came for a visit, and I asked her what she thought of the rules. She said that she thought they made it so that the whole family knew how to help. She had a couple of girlfriends who were caregivers for their parents, and she adamantly voiced that the rules her family had avoided many of the conflicts that her friends told her they had with their families.

Rely on Your Care Manager – not only do care managers do this for a living and bring extensive knowledge and experience to our work together but we also have gone through the process of our own parents aging. We bring kindness, patience, empathy, and our desire to support family caregivers, as well as our clients, to live their best life. You are not alone!

We know the community resources for support groups, respite care, day options, social outings, and other ways for your aging parent to receive engagement services and for you to recharge. Don’t wait. If you already are a caregiver or know that you soon will be, reach out now to create a plan. Nobody wants to think about their parents aging and the future outcomes but to really enjoy the time you have together is very important and we are ready to assist you. Please give us a call at (920) 740-8441 or email us at sue@coylecaremanagement.com to find out more.